1 Corinthians 7.29-31
If you find yourself among people describing God’s call on their life, sooner or later someone will say, ‘God never gives up!’ Jonah is the classic example of divine persistence. Called from the life of a faithful Israelite (1.9) to become a prophet of doom for Nineveh, Jonah sets off in the opposite direction (1.3), only to encounter a voracious fish en route.
This week’s passage begins with God’s second call to Jonah. This time, Jonah is obedient. Nevertheless, his heart must be in his mouth as he approaches this unimaginably large city. Israel had a history with Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire that destroyed the northern kingdom and besieged Jerusalem in the eighth century (see 2 Kings 18). No Israelite could imagine themselves making this journey, to the city of Israel’s doom – especially not with a counter-message of doom from God.
The end of the story is even more surprising. The people of Nineveh take Jonah’s message seriously and repent at once. Their lives also take a different and unexpected turn, and God responds to their radical obedience by offering them a second chance – much to Jonah’s annoyance (4.1), and despite his own second chance.
The psalmist invites us to focus on God as the sole source of strength and hope. God is a rock, a fortress, a refuge. We can say anything to God. This contrasts with human ways of evaluating status or acquiring wealth, which carry no weight. The psalmist brings the whole psalm together in God’s steadfast love, which is the foundation of God’s strength and concern for us.
1 Corinthians 7.29-31
Paul begins this chapter by discussing marriage, responding to an enquiry from the Corinthians. His remarks are coloured by his expectation that the Lord will soon return. The time is short and there is an impending crisis (v.26). Nothing should be allowed to distract the believers’ attention from their discipleship.
Paul challenges his hearers’ priorities in light of this. He uses the word kairos, as Mark does, to describe time held in God’s hand. There is no longer time for the ordinary concerns of life. The routine patterns of everyday life are no longer relevant in light of the radical change that God is bringing about. What is this radical change like? CK Barrett (CK Barrett, 1971, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (2nd ed.) A&C Black: London) offers this translation of verse 31b: ‘The outward show of this world is passing away’. The unchanging reality of the word of God is taking its rightful place (see Isaiah 40.8).
If there is one phrase that characterises Mark, it is ‘and immediately’. It’s found twice in this short reading alone, and it reflects the urgency of sharing the gospel as widely as possible. The time is now! Jesus expresses this in the first words he speaks in this Gospel. The word used for time (v.15) is kairos, which means ‘the right time’ or even ‘crisis moment’. Jesus’ verbs pick up on the same urgency: ‘is fulfilled’, ‘has come near’. He has a crucial message to share. God’s kingdom is about to dawn! So, he invites people to change their way of life, picking up on John the baptizer’s message (1.4), and put their trust in the good news, the work that God is doing in and through him. There is an undercurrent of tension contributing to the urgency. Mark introduced us to John as the forerunner. Now we learn that John has been arrested (v.14). How long will Jesus have before he suffers the same fate?
Jesus’ urgent words are illustrated by his call to the disciples and their unhesitating response. There are vivid images: Simon and Andrew casting their net, then letting it fall to follow Jesus. They abandon the net, which has been their means of making a living, and they let go of their well-honed skill in using it. James and John leave their father in the boat – how would he have reacted to the loss of his two sons and their economic contribution to the family? These instantaneous decisions had difficult consequences for many. The American theologian Ched Myers (Ched Myers, 1991, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis: Maryknoll) comments that the first step in radical discipleship is to overturn the socio-economic position of the disciples.
The disciples are embarking on a new way of life. Jesus’ invitation to change is vividly expressed: ‘Come behind me’, he says, and gives us an image of this little group making their way behind their new leader to start fishing for people. They had no idea where the journey would take them, but it was the beginning of something radically different.